Saturday, January 29, 2011

Here's where I'm headed...

So here's a little bit more of the back story of how I got to be where I am...

I love the church.  I believe very strongly in the need for fellowship and attachment to the body.  I haven't had that much over the last few years, and it's put me in a really vulnerable position.  But I also have a strong calling as a minister of reconciliation in the world.  I don't always know how to balance those things.  About the time when I started feeling like I had to fight the spiritual battle on 2 fronts - against the church and against spiritual forces of evil in the world - was when I stopped being as committed to church as I'd grown up being.  About 10 years ago, my church at that time taught me that sometimes the church can stand between its people and doing the work of God.  The institution of the church is something that I still struggle with and have a hard time trusting because I've seen in the past how it's hurt people, and how it stopped me from doing something I believed God called me to do.

What I currently view as my calling in the church was dropped in my lap when my friend asked me to write a book for her.  This calling to be somewhat of a spokesperson between 2 worlds - the world of the church and the world of the "world" so to speak.  I have all of the appropriate skills and giftings and experience for this.  Growing up with a theologian as a father and in the church, I know the language that's necessary.  I know the issues that church people have with post-modern and post-christian culture.  But I also see the other side of things and have a healthy distrust of institutions myself.  I share modern and post-modern values in a weird concoction that is also mixed in with Asian and American values - it's a mixture that probably exists almost no where else.  I resisted this calling for a long time.  I didn't believe I could do it.  I didn't want to do it.  I didn't want to give up what had become a comfortable place in the world as just a nice Christian who loved people one by one and probably would never be around to see the harvest of lives transformed because of how transitional my community is and how nonconfrontational I am.  I am great at being the person to help a person get rid of the hostility, but I had given up on being around to be able to walk with people through the actual gates of faith and transformation.

And yet here I am and several of my friends are on the threshold, and I see now that I have to make the transition here too.  I have to be one (hopefully among many others who are doing this around the nation) to learn to translate the truths of Scripture and of early spiritual formation and discipleship and figure out how to communicate those things in today's world.  I'm burdened not only to discover this for myself but also to develop resources that can be given away to provide for the church at large.  I don't know this, but I think it's very possible that I could spend a lot of time teaching and training this stuff once I figure it out.

So that's what I'm doing right now--developing resources, trying them out, and then posting them here and providing them on my website.  I'm in the uncomfortable position of trying to develop something that fits with culture as it is now (read non-linear/story-based) and then put it into linear/modern-thinking form so that it can be taught and learned.  It would be much more natural and culturally appropriate to teach it one person at a time so that it could be caught rather than abstracted so that it can go further and wider.  Only time will tell whether we'll be successful or not, but I can't shake the feeling that this is what I'm supposed to be doing.

My current project is to develop a short series of narratives to use in storying that will show what some of the key encounters with Jesus from the Bible looked like and how they changed the lives of the people who encountered him.  I'll start posting the first of those soon.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Do you have an agenda?

So I had a speaking engagement this weekend about the book and some of the principles that I've been talking about on here.  I talked some about emotional barriers to faith and how we can engage those.  And then I tried to give some practical suggestions about how to walk beside people in their faith journeys.  I encouraged people to be thinking about how to invite others to do works of God with them, or about how to think ahead about what spiritual conversations might come up in the normal course of a person's life.

I'm always a little uncomfortable with this kind of thinking and planning ahead, because it seems like it takes some of the authenticity out of a relationship.  One thing that I don't want is to have someone feeling like I'm only talking to them about spiritual things or I'm only their friend because I have this goal for their spiritual lives.  It's important to me that I am developing real relationships with people that encompass all of life - not just the spiritual side.

But I had a question from the audience about whether all of the things I was saying are just like being someone's friend.  In other words, why couldn't he just be their friends?  Why all this other thinking?  Why all this planning ahead?

And I have to say that I think that some thinking is important.  But I would say that this kind of thinking in my own life is applied to all relationships.  I think it's a matter of perspective, of looking at relationships in life as an opportunity to grow.  I'm always entering relationships trying to learn what I can from other people, trying to allow myself to change and grow and become more Christ-like in how I'm learning to interact.  There's always something to learn.  At the same time, I look at all my relationships as a chance to encourage the people around me to grow - not just spiritually but as whole people.

I think I've been incredibly blessed with the kind of community I've lived within these past years.  I have people in my life who really know me and really love me.  In my community, we're always seeking to challenge one another and encourage growth in every area.  This carries over to the way I view the relationships outside my community too.  I want to see people becoming more whole and more healed and more loved and more secure. 

So I don't know.  There's a tension here.  The current cultural value of tolerance and respect demands that we not enter relationships with an agenda.  Agendas alienate people.  What do you think?  Do you think it's possible to have the goal of encouraging people to grow without being perceived as having an agenda?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Life with the Eternal One

I'll never forget one of the first spiritual conversations I had with someone outside of the church.  I was volunteering as a respite worker to stay overnight in a maternity home for unwed mothers who wanted to keep their children instead of aborting them.  This one mother was staying there, and she was a talker.  She told me basically her whole life story.  I barely got a word in edgewise, and actually, I didn't really want to.  Her story was so far outside of my reality that it overwhelmed me and I had no idea what to say.

But I remember that in the course of that conversation, she started talking about her perceptions of Christians and the church.  And she looked at me and said, "Hell?  I'm not afraid of hell.  I've been living in hell for years."

I was, of course speechless.  Clearly it wasn't a time to talk about what eternal separation from God might actually be like.  But she was saying something important to me about the message that had been communicated to her about what it meant to follow Christ.

In my own experience, growing up, I heard so many conversations about "eternal life."  The focus was always on the eternal aspect of it - what would that life in heaven look like, wouldn't it be great to escape this life and go to glory, etc.

So I've been meditating on the story of Nicodemus and Jesus from John 3 as preparation for some storying that we're going to be doing in the next month or two.  And after memorizing the passage and trying to get inside it, I went and read some commentaries on the passage.  And the thing that struck me is that the "eternal life" that Jesus references could really be translated "life with the eternal One."

I know that I've talked about the idea of hope before and how void of hope the places that I walk and live really seem to be.  What if the hope we have to offer is not just the idea of a someday perfect reality, but is something that starts now?  What if it is about having relationship to and access to the Eternal One?  What if that relationship with the Eternal One has the ability to change our lives now?  Maybe not our circumstances, but the quality of the kind of life we live.  What if that is the story we were telling people?

I know that, growing up, I heard that story too.  But it was a fainter story.  It was a story lived by my parents, sure.  But it wasn't the message that the church as a whole was speaking.

It is the story that I've been living though.  Life with the Eternal One is spectacular.  It's filled with peace and joy and a deep, abiding knowledge of who I am and who I belong to.  It's something that orders my steps and helps me to choose right paths.  That is something that I want others to experience too.  It's something I want others to have.  It's so much of the motivation for the passion that I feel for walking with people in spiritual conversations and doing life with people outside of the church.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Prayer that changes things

Several years ago I heard about this movement of people who were creating "houses of prayer" in their neighborhoods.  The basic premise was that you could pray that from the time of Abraham, God's desire has been to bless the world through his people.  They were encouraging people to find the five neighbors that surrounded them and start praying that God would bless them in five different spheres.  If I remember correctly, those were emotional, physical, relational, spiritual, and vocational.

Over the years, I've done that a couple of different times.  I've picked a couple of people - maybe they were neighbors and maybe they were people who I worked with or went to school with, but I started praying that God would bless them in those areas.

It was amazing to see how those prayers changed things.  I didn't always see all the "blessings" that I asked for.  But I did see those people become softer toward me and toward God.  It was amazing.

I think that at first, it really changed the way I viewed them.  I believe I became more interested in what they were saying.  I remembered what they'd said before and could follow up on it.  I became more interested in hearing their stories and their needs.  And in turn, they became much more open to me.  They started sharing things more deeply.  Whatever friendship we had was allowed to foster because it had been nurtured.  I also noticed that many of them also had a softness toward God that they didn't before.

I still think this is a great way to be a minister or a vehicle of God's blessing and mission of reconciliation in the world.  I have met very few people who would be upset or offended to be prayed for in this way.  If you're interested in trying this out in your own life, you can get a little worksheet here that will help you to keep track of your prayers for blessings and the ways that you see God answer.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Common emotional barriers to faith

I've told some stories about emotional barriers to faith, but today I just want to give a list of some of the common emotional barriers I have seen when talking to people over the last few years.

My question for you is what you think the appropriate response to these barriers is.  Is there a way to engage those barriers within a relationship?  Do you have any resources that you use to help people walk through these barriers?

Common emotional barriers/questions

•    How can God send people to hell?
•    If I believe in God, then I have to believe that my recently deceased family-member is in hell.
•    I could never serve a God who allows so much suffering in the world.
•    How can God be good and allow people to starve?

Effect of faith on my life
•    If I become a Christian, I will have to give up my favorite parts of myself and the things I like to do?
•    If I become a Christian, will I have to look and act like all the [fake, annoying, disconnected-from-reality] Christians that I know?
•    If I become a Christian, will I have to forgive . . . [my abusive father, the man who raped me, my spouse who left me]?

•    I believe in God, but the church kicked my family out when I was 5.
•    I believe in God, but the church is mean to people.
•    I believe in God, but the church takes a political position that goes against my values.

Excluded by the Church
•    I am a strong, professional woman.  There is no place for me in your church.
•    I am a homosexual.  There is no place for me in your church.
•    I am a minority.  There is no place for me in your church.
•    I am divorced or unmarried.  There is no place for me in your church.

•    I’m doing just fine on my own, thank you very much.
•    Things are a mess right now, but I’ll start going to church again once I have my life together.
•    I don’t trust you, and I don’t trust God.
•    I’m not good enough to be loved by God.
•    If God the Father is anything like my father, I don’t want anything to do with him.

A pdf version of this list is available here.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

An invitation

    In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.  At first, there was nothing, and then at the word of God, light came into being.  Sun, moon and stars, land, water.  Then God filled the earth with plants and creatures, and finally man.  And this creation was perfect.  There was no blemish.  There was no brokenness.  It was idyllic. 

    Relationships were right.  God came and walked with mankind, talking and relating without barrier.  Adam and Eve related perfectly–every vulnerability exposed, they walked and worked together in harmony.  The earth was lush and ripe and provided everything that mankind needed to survive.  Adam and Eve worked, but their work was fulfilling and life-giving.

    And then one day, it all fell apart.  There was a tree, you see.  A tree in the middle of the garden - the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  The one negative command that God had given was challenged and then disobeyed.  And everything changed.

    When God came to walk in the garden that day, Adam and eve were hiding.  No longer could they walk without fear or shame - no... instead they hid.  The relationship between Adam and Eve was now doomed to be one of conflict and fighting for dominance.  The land was no longer so giving and forgiving, but would require toil and backbreaking labor to produce what they needed to survive.  Mankind’s relationships were a mess.  Relationship with God, relationship with one another, relationship with the land, even relationship with self - now all were full of self-delusion, shame, and fear.

    But the rebellion of mankind did not hold God back.  No, he immediately made plans for a daring rescue of the world.  It would be years in coming, it would take many generations, but he would see the world transformed and restored.  He would see mankind reconciled to himself and one another.

    So God called a man named Abram to leave his father and mother and go to a land he would be shown.  God promised Abram that his offspring would be more numerous than the stars in the sky, that he would be given land, and that all nations of the world would be blessed through him.  So Abram went, and God put into motion his plan of rescue.

    Eventually, Abram’s offspring became a great nation - a nation called and set apart by God to bless the world and to walk in the world as representatives of the living God, Yahweh.  Every action, every law, every human relationship was to be lived according to the commands of Yahweh so that people would see and remember who God is and how much he loves the world.

    And then came the day that Jesus was born, as the perfect picture of who God is and how much he loves the world.  Jesus lived and loved and ministered and died.  And then God built the church, and called us to participate in this great plan of rescue and redemption and reconciliation.

    And this is the calling that we are invited to:

    "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.  We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.  We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.  God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

    "Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: Jesus died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.

    "Because of this decision we don't evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don't look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life begins! Look at it!

    "Instead of selfishness, we now can be selfless.  Instead of greed, we now can give generously what we have.  Instead of being filled with lust, we now can love people who are ugly.  Instead of being prideful, we know that everything that we have and are comes from God.  Instead of seeking the approval of others, we now know that we have God’s approval. 

    "All this comes from the God who healed our broken relationship with him, with ourselves, and with each other.  He now asks us to spend our lives working to help other people heal their broken relationships.  If we choose to walk with God, then our job is to also walk with others and bear their burdens and help men and women drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right.

    "But how is this possible?  It’s possible because God made Jesus, who had no brokenness, to be broken for our sakes, so that through his body and blood, we could become the children of God.   

    2 Corinthians 5:14-21 - Portions taken fromTHE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2010 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.  Other portions taken from the Message translation, copyright 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 and used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.  The rest is paraphrased by the author.

A pdf version of this story is here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Three Little Pigs

I teach legal writing classes at a law school--I have for a couple of years now.  When we're talking about writing a statement of facts for a legal brief, I have students do a little exercise with the story of the Three Little Pigs.  Using the same facts as they know from the original story, I have them try to tell the story from the wolf's point of view.  The point is to learn to frame facts and emphasize and de-emphasize things in order to affect the way the audience views your client.

What I notice about this exercise is that every single time, my students go from this glazed look of mild disinterest or sleepiness to complete engagement.  Even though it's a silly exercise and the students can barely understand why we're talking about a fairy tale in law school, the minute we start creatively engaging with a narrative, they light up.

Story is the language of our culture. 

Many missions resources talk about how important it is when you're entering a new culture to learn the heart-language of the culture.  That even if you're in a country where the trade language is French, for example, to really communicate to the hearts of people, you've got to learn their dialect--you've got to learn to communicate in the language that is dearest to their heart and soul.

I think that the language of story is that for our time and our culture.  Maybe it is for all times and cultures, I don't know.  But learning to engage with people through story opens up something inside of people that allows your words to penetrate to a person's very soul.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A couple steps forward

I've had some interesting spiritual conversations over the last couple of weeks with people.  These particular people have moved from an orientation against belief to an orientation toward belief.  So now I am in a new spot - wondering how to help people have what they need to grow in the knowledge and likeness of Christ.

This is probably what's traditionally called "discipleship."  We'd like to think that it happens in the church, but I'm not so sure that it really does.  It's not easy to be discipled when all you hear are general messages preached to the whole congregation.  More often than not, you have to have someone come alongside you and walk through questions and problems as they arise.  There are also lots of curricula that have been used by student ministries for ages that walk people through assurance and some of the essential spiritual disciplines.  But they still have a modern feel and I'm not sure that my friends would really connect with them.

So for the last couple of weeks, my community has been chewing on this question of how to disciple new believers in this age.  As much as I would like to just invite them to the Bible study that the church plant I'm involved in is doing, it's not quite where they're at.  Although they could learn as much as any of us there, it's not really the content that they need.  So now we're thinking about what we need to create to use to come alongside people at this point in their lives.

It's a new problem for me, actually.  I've been removing rocks and planting seeds for a good long while.  What kinds of discipleship curriculum does your community use?  What are some things that have worked?  What is missing that you really feel you need?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Second Story is Now Available!

You can buy Second Story at either Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

It's unreal, but exciting.  I've been busy sending out copies and doing marketing.  I'll get back to blogging soon.